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Mass collaboration

Mass collaboration

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Mass collaboration is a form of collective action
Collective action
Collective action is the pursuit of a goal or set of goals by more than one person. It is a term which has formulations and theories in many areas of the social sciences.-In sociology:...

 that occurs when large numbers of people work independently on a single project, often modular in its nature. Such projects typically take place on the internet using social software
Social software
Social software applications include communication tools and interactive tools. Communication tools typically handle the capturing, storing and presentation of communication, usually written but increasingly including audio and video as well. Interactive tools handle mediated interactions between a...

 and computer-supported collaboration
Computer-supported collaboration
Computer-supported collaboration research focuses on technology that affects groups, organizations, communities and societies, e.g., voice mail and text chat. It grew from cooperative work study of supporting people's work activities and working relationships...

Collaboration tool
A collaboration tool is something that helps people collaborate. The term is often used to mean collaborative software, but collaboration tools were being used before computers existed...

 such as wiki
A wiki is a website that allows the creation and editing of any number of interlinked web pages via a web browser using a simplified markup language or a WYSIWYG text editor. Wikis are typically powered by wiki software and are often used collaboratively by multiple users. Examples include...

 technologies, which provide a potentially infinite hypertextual substrate within which the collaboration may be situated.


Modularity enables a mass of experiments to proceed in parallel, with different teams working on the same modules, each proposing different solutions. Modularity allows different "blocks" to be easily assembled, facilitating decentralised innovation that all fits together.


Mass collaboration differs from mass cooperation
Cooperation or co-operation is the process of working or acting together. In its simplest form it involves things working in harmony, side by side, while in its more complicated forms, it can involve something as complex as the inner workings of a human being or even the social patterns of a...

 in that the creative acts taking place require the joint development of shared understandings. Conversely, group members involved in cooperation needn't engage in a joint negotiation of understanding; they may simply execute instructions willingly.

Another important distinction is the borders around which a mass cooperation can be defined. Due to the extremely general characteristics and lack of need for fine grain negotiation and consensus when cooperating, the entire internet, a city and even the global economy may be regarded as examples of mass cooperation. Thus mass collaboration is more refined and complex in its process and production on the level of collective engagement.

Online forum

Although an online discussion is certainly collaborative, mass collaboration differs from a large forum, email list, bulletin board, chat session or group discussion in that the discussion's structure of separate, individual posts generated through turn-taking communication means the textual content does not take the form of a single, coherent body. Of course the conceptual domain of the overall discussion exists as a single unified body, however the textual contributors can be linked back to the understandings and interpretations of a single author. Though the author's understandings and interpretations are most certainly a negotiation of the understandings of all who read and contribute to the discussion, the fact that there was only one author of a given entry reduces the entry's collaborative complexity to the discursive/interpretive as opposed to constructive/‘negotiative’ levels


From the perspective of individual sites of work within a mass collaboration, the activity may appear to be identical to that of coauthoring. In fact, it is, with the exception being the implicit and explicit relationships formed by the interdependence that many sites within a mass collaboration share through hypertext and coauthorship with differing sets of collaborators. This interdependence of collaborative sites coauthored by a large number of people is what gives a mass collaboration one of its most distinguishing features - a coherent collaboration emerging from the interrelated collection of its parts.


In the book Wikinomics - how mass collaboration changes everything, and MacroWikinomics-Rebooting business and the world Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams list five powerful new ideas that the new art and science of wikinomics is based on:
  • being open
  • peering
  • sharing
  • acting globally
  • interdependence

The concept of mass collaboration has led to a number of efforts to harness and commercialize shared tasks. Collectively known as crowdsourcing
Crowdsourcing is the act of sourcing tasks traditionally performed by specific individuals to a group of people or community through an open call....

, these ventures typically involve on an online system of accounts for coordinating buyers and sellers of labor. Amazon's Mechanical Turk
Amazon Mechanical Turk
The Amazon Mechanical Turk is a crowdsourcing Internet marketplace that enables computer programmers to co-ordinate the use of human intelligence to perform tasks that computers are unable to do yet. It is one of the suites of Amazon Web Services...

 system follows this model, by enabling employers to distribute minute tasks to thousands of registered workers. In the advertising industry, Giant Hydra employs mass collaboration to enable creatives to collaborate on advertising ideas online and create what they call an 'idea matrix', a highly complex node of concepts, executions and ideas all connected to each other. In the financial industry, companies such as the Open Models Valuation Company (OMVCO) also employ mass collaboration to improve the accuracy of financial forecasts.


The power of Mass-collaboration is evidenced by the scope and accuracy of the Wikipedia project. On his website Mass-Collaboration.net, Kevin St.Onge discusses the opportunities that mass collaboration presents to the world in achieving a global democracy. He argues that governments as we know them will be dissolved and replaced by the collaborative efforts of the entire world population.

The role of discussion

In traditional collaborative scenarios discussion plays a key role in the negotiation of jointly developed, shared understandings (the essence of collaboration), acting as a point of mediation between the individual collaborators and the outcome which may or may not eventuate from the discussions. Mass collaboration reverses this relationship with the work being done providing the point of mediation between collaborators, with associated discussions being an optional component. It is of course debatable that discussion is optimal, as most (if not all) mass collaborations have discussions associated with the content being developed. However it is possible to contribute (to Wikipedia
Wikipedia is a free, web-based, collaborative, multilingual encyclopedia project supported by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. Its 20 million articles have been written collaboratively by volunteers around the world. Almost all of its articles can be edited by anyone with access to the site,...

 for instance) without discussing the content you are contributing to. (Smaller scale collaborations might be conducted without discussions especially in a non-verbal mode of work - imagine two painters contributing to the same canvas - but the situation becomes increasingly problematic as more members are included.)

Non-textual mass collaboration

Although the only widely successful examples of mass collaboration thus far evaluated exist in the textual medium, there is no immediate reason why this form of collective action
Collective action
Collective action is the pursuit of a goal or set of goals by more than one person. It is a term which has formulations and theories in many areas of the social sciences.-In sociology:...

couldn't work in other creative media. It could be argued that some projects within the open source software movement provide examples of mass collaboration outside of the traditional written language (see below), however, the code collaboratively created still exists as a language utilizing a textual medium.
Music is also a possible site for mass collaboration, for instance on live performance recordings where audience members' voices have become part of the standard version of a song. Most "anonymous" folk songs and "traditional" tunes are also arguably sites of long term mass collaboration.

External links

  • Giant Hydra A mass collaboration system designed for professional advertising creatives to work on campaigns for agencies and clients around the world.